How often do we find ourselves in an unfamiliar destination with no room booked, no one to meet us, and very little prior knowledge about the place where we’ve just landed? These days, “not often” is the most common answer.
I’m starting to feel more and more that traveling without much of a plan is becoming a rarified thing; that we are planning and researching ourselves into a blinkered experience every time we strike out to explore a new place.
It takes a concerted effort to travel without connectedness these days, to lose ourselves alone or otherwise in an entirely new place and embrace uncertainty.
And that’s a damn shame.
How can we have meaningful interactions with people around the world if we are on such a tight schedule? We have our transfers arranged, our hotel rooms booked, and our activities researched and planned out in advance. What is the point of travel if we’re too busy “making the most of a place” to actually experience it and fully engage with local people, who will inevitably make the adventure all the more interesting?
By knowing the best and worst places to visit, eat, or stay in advance, aren’t we just cornering ourselves into a bland experience that pulls the shutters down on all of those eye-opening, sometimes dangerous, thrilling, and engaging experiences, those gems that can never be foreseen but are almost always the most memorable?
It isn’t just having access to endless travel blogs and forums and general advice platforms online that’s the problem.
I think the reason we reach for those sites in the first place stems from a relatively recent, misplaced yearning to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being “out of place.” We think that if we do enough reading and online research before we arrive, we can avoid this discomfort.
That “out of place” feeling is exactly what we should all be aiming for.
But if you’re heading out in search of an experience beyond relaxing on a beach for a week, that “out of place” feeling is exactly what we should all be aiming for. Feeling foreign in a new place can only heighten every sense we have, and illicit a thrill rarely felt in our everyday lives. For once, we are forced to focus entirely on the present.
Back before there was a plethora of information on any given town, beach, or backwater at the drop of a Google search, travelers would often have little to go on but a Lonely Planet guidebook and word of mouth. True, this inevitably meant that everyone gravitated towards the same routes, towns, and areas – but it also meant that we were exposed to a whole wealth of unknowns that are inconceivable today.
Our venues are now always researched, evaluated, and planned in advance.
Even when it comes to the simple act of going out to eat in a new place, which can often be the perfect time to strike up a conversation with a stranger or try an unfamiliar dish, we over-plan. Online guides have led us into a tunnel vision version of the world (ironically, online advice is often inaccurate and far from the sure bet we expect).
Thinking that everything was “better before the internet came along” only goes to prove my age somewhat, but knowing less about a place until arriving was definitely less stressful. Going where the mood takes you is just more enjoyable than planning 10 sights to see, plus “must try” restaurants and that one culturally significant experience that everyone “has” to do.
I find myself yearning with my rose-tinted specs fully on for that time when we would strike out, alone or otherwise, to just arrive and let serendipity take over.
Whether it be a weekend in Paris or a month in India, the ‘stick a pin in a map and work it out when you get there’ way of traveling can leave us authentically open to the very best and worst of the world. The whole kit and caboodle.
Knowing a place through the lens of the internet isn’t the same as experiencing it.
It’s only when we let go of the reviews and advice and conveniences of a trip too tightly planned that we get the chance to really be there – to just live a place for a short while. That feeling should always be on the itinerary.